Cervical radiculopathy, commonly called a "pinched nerve", occurs when a nerve in the neck is compressed or irritated where it branches away from the spinal cord. This causes pain to radiate into the upper extremity (shoulder through hand). Besides causing pain, a “pinched nerve” in the neck can cause numbness, tingling in the distribution of the nerve that is compressed or irritated. Muscles that are innervated by that nerve can also become weak.
Cervical radiculopathy is often caused by "wear and tear" changes that occur in the spine as we age, such as arthritis. In younger people, it is most often caused by a sudden injury that results in a herniated disk.
In most cases, cervical radiculopathy responds well to conservative treatment that includes medication and physical therapy. If the patient’s pain does not improve with conservative care a cervical epidural steroid injection or a cervical transforaminal epidural steroid injection might be recommended.
Surgery for this condition is only recommended when patients have a progressive neurological deficit (increased numbness, tingling, and/or weakness) or they have failed medications, physical therapy, and injections.